Top 10 Things You Can Learn in Greece

Jeep Safaris in Macedonia
From Greece’s second city, the vibrant seashore metropolis of Thessaloniki, you can join in a wildlife safari into the more rugged parts of Macedonia and Thrace in far eastern Greece. These jeep trips start off the beaten track and then get even more remote. They take in the National Park area of the wetlands around Lake Kirkini near the Bulgarian border, include some canoe rides which glide quietly past the wildlife, and white-water rafting too. You also visit the Fraktos Forest, one of the few remaining places in Greece where you can still find the European brown bear.

Work to Protect Sea Turtles on Kefalonia
If your idea of a holiday is getting involved and doing something worthwhile, then you could commit yourself to a month on the Ionian island of Kefalonia, working six days a week, 7-8 hours a day. Every summer from May-October the Katelios Group needs volunteers to help with their work protecting Kefalonia’s wildlife, and in particular the endangered loggerhead sea turtle Carreta carreta. Work ranges from getting out and about educating holidaymakers, to staying on remote beaches helping protect the turtles when they come ashore to lay their eggs in the soft golden sand. Seeing the eggs hatch safely and watching the young turtles scoot their way back into the water is more than just another holiday experience.

Make Raki on Crete
The village of Vamos, between Chania and Rethymnon on Crete, reaches out to the island’s visitors by inviting them to join in many of the traditional village activities. It’s an enterprising scheme which gives travellers a more hands-on experience of life in an agricultural settlement, and also helps keep these traditions alive. In winter you can learn how to make cheeses like feta, in November/December join in the olive harvest, in summer experience the wheat harvest, in autumn the wine-making, and in October the follow-on from wine-making: making raki. This Cretan firewater is made from what’s left of the grapes after the juice has been extracted, and you can visit the local rakokazana, where it’s made, and join in the inevitable series of feasts to celebrate the new brew. All this is arranged not through a tour operator but direct with the village.

Learn Folk Dancing in Athens
Dora Stratou is a legendary figure in Greek folk music and dancing, and many visitors to Athens go to see the shows given by the folk dance group she created. They’re as much a part of the city’s nightlife as the nearby Son et Lumiere shows. You can do more than just watch the show, though. The Dora Stratou Dance Theatre runs workshops in English throughout the summer, taking you way beyond the typical Greek night where you learn to dance a few steps of the syrtaki with one of the waiters. For four hours each afternoon you learn the history of dances from all over Greece, attend lectures, see the Theatre’s wardrobe of over 3,000 costumes, meet visiting dance troupes and learn the dances being performed in that evening’s show. Dora Stratou Dance Theatre, Scholiou 8, Plaka, GR-10558 Athens.

Learn to Cook on Santorini
You’ve probably never wondered what a Byzantine breakfast was like, or given much thought to what the Minoans had for their mid-day meal, but food writer and cook Rosemary Barron has. The author of the book Flavors of Greece, and contributor to magazines like Decanter and Bon Appetit, teaches both ancient and modern Greek cuisine as part of her 6-day cookery courses on the volcanic island of Santorini, known for its black sand beaches. Today Santorini has some of the best restaurants in the Cyclades and Barron’s course is taught at one of these, the Selene. Every Thursday in season the restaurant also has its own one-day cookery sessions too, in which you learn how to produce a 4-course Greek meal with dishes like fava, or lamb in vine leaves.

Icon Painting on Patmos
Patmos is one of the holiest Greek islands, where St John is said to have written the Book of Revelation. It’s an appropriate place, then, to learn the traditional skills of icon painting. As well as visiting the island’s sacred monasteries and churches, you learn all about the historical techniques of icon painting, before starting work on your own. Sketches are made on paper, then transferred to wood before mixing paints and discovering how these were traditionally made from natural ingredients like metals and plant dyes. The skills of using Byzantine lettering need to be mastered too, before applying a protective lacquer coat to the work to preserve it for posterity, just like the centuries-old Greek icon paintings that still survive today. Details here.

Count Birds of Prey on the Island of Antikithira
You can combine seeing one of the lesser-known Greek islands, Antikithira, with doing something to help the Greek population of birds of prey, through the Hellenic Ornithological Society. Greece’s beaches and archaeological sites get all the attention, but it has some outstanding wildlife reserves too, like the Prespa Lakes near the Albanian border, and the Dadia Forest Reserve close to Turkey. Antikithira is a small island at the foot of the Peloponnese, and an important spot on the migration route for raptors from March-May and August-December. If you don’t mind roughing it in a bunkhouse with the other volunteers, you can spend all day out in the countryside recording the birds that pass through – and you don’t need to be an expert beforehand to do it.

Learn to Carve Marble on Tinos
The marble from the island of Tinos in the Cyclades was prized by the ancient Greek sculptors, who all wanted to work in this material for its luminous and lifelike qualities. Marble is still quarried on the island, and modern sculptors keep the tradition alive in several workshops. Anyone who fancies their chances of creating the next Venus de Milo, with or without arms, can attend workshops on Tinos spending three 5-hour days with a local sculptor. You’ll be taught about the unusual geology of the island’s marble, introduced to the basic sculptor’s tools, and shown the techniques to enable you to start carving your own piece of work, by doing some hand-lettering in the marble. Courses are arranged through the Trekking Hellas company in Athens, and include transport to and from Tinos and the chance to extend your stay.

Go Mushroom Collecting in the Pindus Mountains
Greece may not be as famous for its mushrooms as France and Italy, but they are a mainstay of the diet and in rural areas people go out mushroom-hunting in the forests. Visitors can join them in the Aspropotamos Valley on the edge of the stunning Pindus Mountains, not far from the monasteries of Meteora. It’s only 4-5 hours from Athens, and 3-day holidays here see you learning about the local mushrooms on the first evening, followed by a full day’s foray into the forests to find the crops. Accommodation is in a traditional tower hotel hidden in the forests, and on the second evening you’re presented with a mushroom feast, with dishes like mushroom soup, mushroom pie, and mushrooms with veal. Through Trekking Hellas.

Enter the Athens Marathon
In 490BC the outnumbered Greeks fought a heroic victory over the Persians in Marathon, east of Athens, to preserve their democratic way of life. The soldier who ran the 26 miles to Athens with the news is now commemorated worldwide in the race we know as the marathon. Athens is of course the only place where you can run that original route from the village of Marathon (where a mound covers the mass graves of the fallen soldiers) into the heart of Athens. It takes place one Sunday in early November, which is thankfully a slighty cooler time of year to run.